“Bambino at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1921”

Exactly 95 years ago this month, local baseball fans were treated to an appearance by the legendary “Sultan of Swat,” Babe Ruth.

ruth-dugout

Ruth and teammates in the dug out of the Bay Street ball yard.

The former Red Sox outfielder had been traded to the New York Yankees the previous year and was already proving well worth his $125,000 purchase price. On July 5th, 1921 just two days before his visit to Rochester, Ruth scored his 31st home run of the season.

This achievement only further mounted anticipation among locals for the impending Yankees’ exhibition game versus the International League’s Rochester Club on July 7th.

“No exhibition game arranged for Rochester in years- if ever before-has attracted the attention and aroused the enthusiasm of the one with the New York club, for everybody wants to get a glimpse of “Babe” Ruth,” the Democrat & Chronicle noted.

Fans not only wanted to see Ruth, they wanted to witness one of his patented homers. The Rochester Club’s manager, George Stallings, made it clear, however, that the Rochester Club would in no way assist the Yankee achieve this feat.

He informed reporters, “I shall instruct my pitchers to pitch to Ruth as hard as to any other batsman. Then, if he does drive one over the fence, the fans may be sure that it is something more than an empty honor…The fans want to see him hit. Nevertheless my pitchers will not aid or abet him in any way to adding to the home runs he has made. If the ‘Babe’ makes a home run it will be in spite of, rather than because of the pitching he gets.”

Nearly 6,000 eager sports fans descended upon the Bay Street ball yard for the exhibition game on July 7th, 1921. Requests for advance tickets had poured in from every town and city in Western New York.

Although excitement surrounding the match-up had reached fever pitch by the one o’clock start time, the game itself proved fairly mundane.

The Democrat & Chronicle reported: “The hot, sultry air did not serve to enliven the proceedings of the game, but as a whole, the fray was a cleanly played affair. There was no sensational work on either side, and those fans who came out to the ball yard were distinctly disappointed if they thought they would see some flashy playing by the teams.”

Babe Ruth’s contribution was no exception. The famed baller only cracked one hit—a single—during his four trips to the plate.

The Great Bambino’s less than great performance garnered some cutting criticism from the Rochester club’s fan base. Reporters on the scene noted that “the crowd apparently went out to the Bay street yard to razz him, for the “Babe” came in for some especially hard calls from the fans.”

And although many fans had hoped to see a Babe Ruth home run, there was in fact much joy in Rochester(ville) when the mighty Bambino struck out.

ruth-strike out

The Rochester club ultimately defeated Ruth and the New York Yankees, 4-2.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on July 26, 2016 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

If it Ain’t Dutch it Ain’t Much: Rochester’s Holland-American Club

 

merchants wood fired pizza

A familiar site in the Culver-Merchants neighborhood, the building now housing Merchants Wood-Fired Pizza and Bistro was originally the home of the Holland-American Club.

The organization initially formed in 1921 as a theatrical group seeking to stage plays in the Dutch language. The club held its first performance that November at the Turn-Halle on Clinton Avenue. The program included a three act play called Jan Ongeluk (John the Unlucky) and a klompendans (wooden shoe dance) performed by three young women.

A reporter from the D&C remarked that the dance “was striking. Eccentric and individual, it had a certain grace and rhythm which won instant appreciation.”

A membership drive following the show sought to enlist as many Hollanders into the organization as possible with the hope of one day building of a proper clubhouse where Dutch culture and social affairs could be celebrated.

Though the membership drive was swift and successful, construction on the club’s headquarters  was not as prompt.

For several years, the club ended up hosting its outings and Dutch-language performances at other area venues such as the Labor Lyceum on Clinton Avenue and the Ukrainian Civic Center Auditorium on Joseph Avenue.

Many of these shows and outings were fundraising ventures for the much desired clubhouse. Construction on the edifice finally began in 1947. When the stucco structure at 564 Merchants Road opened its doors four years later, Rochester ‘s Holland-American Club was the only chapter in the country to have its own permanent building.

Since new immigration had stalled during the 1930s and most of the city’s Dutch immigrants had been Americanized by the time the clubhouse opened, the group largely functioned as a social organization in its latter years.

hAC 1954

Club members, 1954

President William Wyngarde explained, “It’s a club for friendship and enjoyment. Its members come from every province of the Netherlands. Politics or religion are no part of the club in any way.”

The group’s affability extended to accepting fellow European emigres into their clubhouse.

In 1954, the venue hosted the Hungarian –American Club’s centenary celebration of Hungary’s independence. Two years later, when Rochester received a number of Hungarian refugees following the country’s revolution, the Holland-American Club once again welcomed their European brethren with open arms, hosting festivities and fundraisers for the exiles.

Tragedy struck the convivial clubhouse the following decade when a fire sparked by a cigarette butt engulfed the building’s interior and tore through the roof before firefighters managed to bring it under control.

In 1964, two years after the conflagration, the club expressed interest in converting their headquarters into a restaurant and cocktail lounge, but the plan did not come to fruition. The organization left the building in 1966 and entered a somewhat dormant period. A newly reformed Holland-American Club arose in the 1990s, during which the Dutch Market on Park Avenue played host to club meetings and events .

Meanwhile, the group’s former clubhouse on the corner of Merchants Road and Wyand Crescent  underwent a series of vastly different incarnations, housing Local 210 of the National Association of Letter Carriers for over two decades, then serving as the home of an Ahmadi Muslim mosque before being repurposed as an Italian restaurant in 2008.

-Emily Morry

 

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Speakeasies and Snake Dancers: Timultuous times at Bardo’s Inn

elmgrove and lyell

You wouldn’t know by looking at it today, but the northeast corner of Lyell and Elmgrove Road in Gates was once home to one of the area’s liveliest–if somewhat notorious–entertainment venues.

Longtime residents of the neighborhood likely associate the intersection with the since demolished Elmgrove Inn, but the building’s original incarnation was a unique establishment called Bardo’s Inn.

Opened in the 1920s by August J. “Gus” Bardo, the venue was alternately advertised as an inn, a restaurant, and a supper club, but its interior activities belied these billings.

The club was the subject of several raids during the Prohibition Era. One such raid in May, 1928 made the front page of the Democrat and Chronicle, which informed readers that authorities had seized gin, wine and whiskey from the property. Bardo suffered a temporary injunction, and reopened only to be subjected to another bust a few years later.

A 1933 raid uncovered that Bardo was peddling not only gin, but gambling as well. State troopers seized a slot machine on the site and emptied its contents into the Gates welfare fund.

Bardo sought other forms of entertainment for his patrons in the years following Prohibition’s repeal.

He advertised in regional African-American newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier and the New York Age, offering auditions to a range of “first-class entertainers” including “blues singers, flat foots, snake, hip or hula dancers,” promising them room and board for year-round work.

Bardo hired black entertainers for exclusively white audiences, borrowing a business model popularized by the Cotton Club in New York City (though the Cotton Club changed this policy in 1932).

The club owner would eventually entrust artist recruitment to Maxie Maxwell, a dancer and singer from New York City who would go on to become the emcee and producer of all Bardo’s Inn performances.

bardos_group with maxie

Maxie Maxwell at bottom left

Maxwell, pictured above, featured a variety of entertainers in his shows, including Sweetie Pie, who performed a novelty number while dancing on her toes, Spoons Brown, who made music with wooden utensils, and Chiquita, a “shake artist.”

bardos-duo

Though the Inn’s performances proved popular, relations between performers were not always cordial. In April 1938, a heated dispute sparked by “professional jealousy” arose between dancer Helen Bookman and Doris Reeves, known at Bardo’s for her snake dance routine.

The D&C reported that Reeves had suffered bites and lacerations “when Miss Bookman employed both teeth and a roadhouse kitchen meat cleaver in the course of the fracas.” Bookman was arrested following the altercation and “wore her floor show finery to jail.”

The show at Bardo’s carried on that night minus two of its principals, and the venue itself carried on till 1945, four years after Gus Bardo’s passing.

bardos_ladies

A Bavarian-style supper club called the Alpine Inn temporarily occupied the building before the Elmgrove Inn established itself on the site in 1949.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on June 21, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

American Ancestors offers free access to New York records throughout June

NEHGS

Although we love to see you in the Local History & Genealogy Division, we thought you might like to know that for the month of June you can access American Ancestor’s New York records from home for free. See the press release below for details.

Remember, American Ancestors and Ancestry are always free in the Local History & Genealogy Division, along with many other family history resources.

June 2, 2016—Boston, Massachusetts—Frequently there’s a New York wall in the way of family historians conducting research that includes ancestors in the Empire State. Today the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has announced a special feature to help genealogists break through it with FREE Access to all of its New York databases at AmericanAncestors.org/New-York.

New York genealogy can be a challenge, depending on the time, place, and ethnicity of one’s ancestors. For example, finding 18th century Dutch-descended New Yorkers in the Hudson Valley is easier than finding settlers from New England in the same locale. The 1911 fire at the State Library in Albany and the fact that statewide registration of vital records did not start until 1880 can create challenging brick walls for research that includes the Empire State.

The unique New York databases on AmericanAncestors.org—the data-rich website of NEHGS—offer thousands of early American records for finding lost New York ancestors. 23 databases including church records, property records, marriage notices, and cemetery inscriptions are all within the online collection of the New York resources of NEHGS. The experts at NEHGS know the best resources for New York genealogy and can teach you to use them effectively.

Of particular interest to family historians seeking New York data are two databases offered FREE during this special, month-long program of NEHGS:

  • Abstracts of Wills, Admins., and Guardianships in NY State, 1787-1835This database contains transcriptions for more than 50 counties within the state of New York. This compilation of Abstracts of New York Wills, Administrations, and Guardianships was created by William Applebie Daniel Eardeley. The original materials are part of the Brooklyn Historical Society’s manuscript collection. Eardeley abstracted original estate proceedings in the counties of New York. In addition he indexed all the names in his abstracts, i.e. those of the decedents, executors, administrators, petitioners, guardians, witnesses, named beneficiaries, and minor children. Although the original title of the collection refers to the years 1691 to 1860, the bulk of the material concerns the period 1787 to 1835.
  • New York: Albany County Deeds, 1630-1894
    The Index to the public records of the County of Albany, State of New York, 1630-1894 was compiled and printed  pursuant to the laws of 1893, under direction of Wheeler B. Melius, Superintendent [1893-1906] of the Albany County (N.Y.) Board of Supervisors. This important fourteen volume set of 302,300 land transactions in Albany County, searchable by grantor, grantee, corporation and date of transaction represents some of the only surviving early records of Albany, NY after a devastating fire on February 10, 1880 at Albany City Hall destroyed or severely damaged many records for the city and county. The database is complete with records from all volumes, 1-14.

Throughout the month of June, these and all other New York databases on the website of NEHGS are FREE to Guest Users. Users who register for FREE access may browse a wide variety of New York records, subject guides, articles, and publications and view other resources at AmericanAncestors.org/New-York. Unlimited access to all one billion plus records on AmericanAncestors.org and other benefits are through membership at NEHGS.

About American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society

The founding genealogical society in America, New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) was established in 1845. Today it has a national collecting scope and serves more than 150,000 constituents through an award-winning website, www.AmericanAncestors.org. Since 1845, NEHGS has been the country’s leading comprehensive resource for genealogists and family historians of every skill level. Today NEHGS provides constituents with worldwide access to some of the most important and valuable research tools anywhere.

American Ancestors is the public brand and user experience of NEHGS representing the expertise and resources available for family historians of all levels when researching their origins across the country and around the world. NEHGS’s resources, expertise, and service are unmatched in the field and their leading staff of on-site and online genealogists includes experts in early American, Irish, English, Scottish, Italian, Atlantic and French Canadian, African American, Native American, Chinese, and Jewish research. Expert assistance is available to members and nonmembers in a variety of ways. The NEHGS library and archive, located at 99-101 Newbury Street in downtown Boston, Massachusetts is home to more than 28 million items, including manuscript documents, genealogical records, books, photographs, and other items dating back hundreds of years.

Published in: on June 7, 2016 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Silent Alarm: Rochester’s Rare Ringer

If you’ve ever found yourself walking by the stylish Art Deco building on Andrews Street that now houses the Municipal Archives, you may have noticed the large red apparatus sitting atop its roof.  And you may ask yourself, what is that beautiful machine? And you may ask yourself, how did it get there?

ChryslerAirRaidSiren

As it happens, the beautiful machine in question is a holdover from the Cold War Era that has graced the roof of 414 Andrews Street since 1955.

Air raid sirens formed an integral part of Civil Defense planning in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Rochester witnessed its share of alarm systems as officials deemed the city a potential Communist target due to its manufacturing and defense industries.

In June 1952, New York State’s Civil Defense Director Clarence Heubner warned local residents, “Rochester is only 9 1/2 hours flying distance from Russia. The only thing that’s needed to launch one of those planes is word from Joe Stalin.”

That decade, several sirens of varying sizes and sonic strengths were tested at strategic points around the city, such as Cobbs Hill and what was then the Fire Bureau Headquarters at 315 Cumberland Street (now 414 Andrews Street).

Many of these sirens proved insufficient in some way or another—either their output was obfuscated by certain buildings or they failed to be heard inside individual homes, essentially negating their function as a warning system.

In October 1955, Monroe County Civil Defense Director Robert Abbott proclaimed that the city would be testing the “world’s largest air siren.” Abbott boasted that the alarm in question, the Chrysler Air Raid Siren, “will produce the loudest noise ever devised by man for a sustained output by mechanical means.”

The test of the 138dB siren, launched on November 8th proved successful, if unenjoyable to some ears.

Democrat_and_Chronicle_Thu__Nov_10__1955_

Message transmitted to these receivers at School 11.

Coincidentally, the County purchased two of the Chrysler sirens not long before the local Office of Civil Defense began to phase out air raid testing. And while “duck and cover” exercises experienced a revival during the Cuban Missile Crisis era, interest in and funding for Civil Defense started to wane by the late 1960s.

The following decade, the unit, now refocused on disaster relief, was rebranded the Monroe County Office of Emergency Preparedness and the region’s 584 fallout shelters were emptied.

And just as the countless faded fallout shelter signs donning buildings across America serve as a reminder of life during Cold Wartime, so too does the small collection of silent sirens still perched atop formerly strategic structures.

Though the majority of air raid sirens were either scrapped or sold to museums and collectors, some were left in place, often because the cost of their removal proved greater than their scrap value.

The big red ringer on Andrews Street is one of only a dozen or so Chrysler Air Raid Sirens in the United States that has remained in its original location same as it ever was, making the Cold War relic a unique local artifact.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on May 31, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  

Flag of our Founders: The Curious Case of Rochester’s City Flag

A few months ago, a couple of eager patrons came to the Local History division seeking information about Rochester’s flag—not the blue flag emblazoned with the ubiquitous flour city/flower city logo, they specified–but the official city flag of Rochester. I was familiar with the flag in question though I’d only ever seen a postcard of it and had never come across one in person.

Sharing my patrons’ curiosity about the history and current whereabouts of this mysterious pennant, I later did a little digging of my own…

The idea of an official city flag was first proposed in 1910 when Rochester was trying to establish itself as a major convention center.

Unveiled in September of that year, the blue white and gold flag designed by David E. Spear Jr. showcased the 400-year old Rochester family Coat of Arms, which featured a crane above three crescents (associated in heraldry with fertility and prosperity).

flagpostcard

1910 Postcard of the City Flag

The flag’s colours also bore symbolic significance. As Mayor Hiram Edgerton noted: “the blue represents our exceptional water and electric power; the white, the cleanliness of our city; the gold, our financial strength and industrial prosperity.”

The design met with criticism almost immediately. An attendee of the unveiling who was well versed in heraldry observed that the color order did not conform to heraldic laws. He also raised questions about the practicality of including an official coat of arms on a municipal flag.

“Is this flag to become popular?” he inquired, “If so, is not the Rochester arms rather complicated, making the price beyond the reach of citizens generally? Why not eliminate them on common or bunting flags for general use?”

This consideration may have influenced the City’s hesitancy in adopting the design as the official Rochester flag. Though first unveiled in 1910, the flag was not formally recognized until 1934, upon prompting from members of the Rochester Historical Society.

But even this official designation seemingly did not lead to the flag’s widespread use. By the late 1950s, only 4 local sites displayed the flag and no one at City Hall had any knowledge of the flag’s history. Nor were they able to settle the ongoing debate among Rochester’s citizens as to whether the bird featured on the flag was a chicken or a duck. (It was neither).

When the blue flag featuring the Flour City/Flower City seal was revealed in 1979, Rochester’s official flag receded further from public view and public memory.

A 2004 Democrat & Chronicle article discussing the flag’s poor rating from the North American Vexillological Association listed just two places where it was still on display: City Hall and the Local History division of the Central Library.

This news came as a surprise to me since I’ve been working in that very area of the library in one capacity or another for a few years and have never seen nor heard anyone mention the flag in question. After my searches through the division’s special collections proved unfruitful, I asked City Historian Christine Ridarsky if she knew anything about the flag’s whereabouts.

To my delight, she unearthed the requested item from the storage closet of the Office of the City Historian (which happens to be located in the Local History division). Neither Christine nor the Local History division’s previous manager had any clue as to how the flag ended up there, but it became clear why it was no longer on display when I unfurled it.

Torn and frayed in one corner and blemished in spots, the discolored flag has clearly seen better days.

Cityflag-current

Tattered though it may be, the banner is likely one of the few official city flags still in existence and serves as a lesser known piece of  Rochester’s past.

-Emily Morry

 

 

 

Published in: on May 17, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (3)  

Before They Were Famous…

In honor of the Rochester Music Hall of Fame ceremony this week, here’s a look at the local roots of three of this year’s inductees…

Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis

Before his signature sax lines punctuated a series of James Brown classics such as “Say it Loud (I’m Black I’m Proud)” and “Cold Sweat,” Pee Wee Ellis played saxophone in the Madison High School band.

PeeWeeEllis-solo

Ellis in 1957

Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis was born in Braderton, Florida in 1942, but relocated with his family to Lubbock, Texas seven years later. After enduring a racially-motivated tragedy, the Ellis’ decided to move again in 1955. They resettled in Rochester, where they had a number of relatives.

The young Alfred Ellis enrolled at Madison High, where his saxophone skills earned him a spot in the school band. Ellis also engaged in extracurricular studies, absorbing jazz performances at local clubs like the Pythodd and playing with local musicians such as noted bassist, Ron Carter, and the Mangione brothers.

A chance encounter with Sonny Rollins in New York City in 1957 drew Ellis to the city to study under the legendary tenor sax player. Ellis split his time between his hometown and the City before relocating there permanently in the early 1960s.

Ellis’ post-Rochester career as a musician, composer and arranger found him playing  with the Godfather of Soul followed by a series of dynamic artists including George Benson, Van Morrison and Ginger Baker.

Joe Locke

Before he became widely renowned as one of the world’s premier vibraphonists, Joe Locke was an East High Oriental.

           JoeLocke                        Can you find Joe Locke in this 1973 class photo?

Locke was born in Palo Alto, California in 1959, but was raised in Rochester. Both his father, Fred (a classic literature professor at the University of Rochester) and mother, Mary, were enamored with music and transferred this love to their son. He studied music at East High under the tutelage of Renee Fleming’s father, Edwin Fleming.

Like Pee Wee Ellis, Locke complemented his scholastic training with lessons from local musicians. Locke’s Rochester mentors included saxophonist Joe Romano, drummer Vinnie Ruggiero and saxophonist Joey Currazzato, in whose apartment Locke spent a lot of time listening to jazz records as a teen.

Locke deepened his musical training at the Eastman School of Music where he studied classical percussion and composition with  John Beck and Gordon Stout. In 1981, Locke left the Flower City for New York City where he built his career in earnest.

In the years since, the vibraphonist and composer has performed with an impressive array of musicians spanning from pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. to popular artists such as Rod Stewart and the Beastie Boys.

Wendy O. Williams

Before she wowed audiences with her bold stage antics, punk musician Wendy O. Williams was a shy student at R.L. Thomas High in Webster.

WendyOWilliams-2

Sophomore Wendy Williams

Though she would later tell people she was born in “Plasmaville, U.S.A.,” Wendy Orlean Williams was born in Rochester in 1949. Her mother and father, a chemist at Eastman Kodak, raised Wendy and her two sisters in a modest State Road home in Webster.

The shock-rocker’s suburban upbringing wasn’t entirely staid, however. Williams was kicked out of her Brownie troop as a young girl and arrested for sunbathing nude in Letchworth State Park at the age of 15.

Williams nevertheless largely went unnoticed during her years at R.L. Thomas High. She played clarinet in the school band (and took clarinet lessons for six months at the Eastman Community Music School), but otherwise kept to herself.

“She was the meekest little lamb you would ever want to know,” explained Thomas guidance counselor, George Hugel.

Williams would later recall of her high school years, “I was an outcast, a loner. I never felt like I fit.” The alienated teen dropped out of school and left Webster in 1965 at the age of 16.

The following decade, her band, the Plasmatics, became a staple of the New York underground scene where Wendy’s radical conceptual performances earned her the title, the “Queen of Punk.”

 

-Emily Morry

Published in: on April 19, 2016 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Rochester Radical: The Journey of Christopher Lasch

 

Christopher_Lasch

Social critic Christopher Lasch

Join us on Saturday, April 16, from 1-2:30 pm in the Rundel Auditorium (Rundel Memorial Building, 3rd floor) for a fascinating look into the life and times of Christopher Lasch, perhaps America’s most preeminent social critic of the mid- to late 20th century.

The author of numerous celebrated books and articles, Lasch also seemed poised for an academic career as a historian that would lead him to the highest heights of the American university system. Instead, in 1970 after a decade of job-hopping, Lasch landed in Rochester and never moved again. He found an enriching community and planted deep roots in the “Flower City,” turning down other opportunities in order to remain in a place that aligned with his intellectual values. Join us for an exploration of the connections and affinities between person and place that tell Lasch’s quintessentially Rochester story.

Jeff Ludwig

Jeff Ludwig

Jeff Ludwig is the Director of Education at the Seward House Museum in Auburn, N.Y. He previously worked as a researcher in the Rochester Office of the City Historian and for the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library. Jeff earned a PhD in History at the University of Rochester in 2014, completing a dissertation on the Rochester-based social critic Christopher Lasch.

 

It’s Campaigning Time Again…

Rochester has welcomed its fair share of presidential hopefuls over the years. Images from a number of these visits can be found in the Local History and Genealogy division’s photograph collection.

HHHandBurro

Humphrey’s New Day

Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s campaign made its local stop at the Greater Rochester International Airport in September, 1968. The Aquinas High School band played “Going Out of My Head” as the Democratic nominee’s plane landed at Page Airways Hangar.

The visibly road-worn politician delivered a gravelly-voiced speech largely from memory that was met with applause as well as gifts. A young woman placed a string of wooden “love beads” around Humphrey’s neck and the local Citizens for Humphrey organization presented the candidate with a two-month-old Pygmy burro named El Nueva Dia, or, “New Day, ”in reference to the vice president’s campaign slogan, “A New Day for America.”

Directly after completing his appearance (during which roughly 120 bottles of whiskey were consumed by attendees), Humphrey returned to his plane. A woman stopped the candidate on the way and remarked, “Oh, you’re so handsome, Mr. Humphrey,” to which he responded, “You know, I keep telling my wife that.”

Sadly, the baby burro did not make the trip. Because the young animal needed to be steadier on her feet before she could be crated, El Nueva Dia was sent to Lollypop Farm  to await her formal adoption.

Four years later, on September 22, 1972, Senator George McGovern graced Rochester with his presence, appearing at a rally of some 7,000 people on Elm Street near the Liberty Pole.

McGovernThe crowd, which McGovern claimed was the most enthusiastic he’d witnessed on the current leg of his campaign, was a diverse group that found flannel-shirted youths rubbing shoulders with fur stole-sporters.

A strong contingent of union representatives were in attendance as were members of the Rochester Area Women for Peace, who donned wide-brimmed hats emblazoned with “Another Woman for McGovern.”

The candidate appealed to the common interests of his diverse constituents, stating “I find a desperate hunger in people to make America a good, powerful and just land again. This is not radicalism. It is a plea to live by the great precepts by which we began two centuries ago.”

His greatest applause, however, came from his critique of the Nixon campaign’s recent break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building: “A political outfit that wiretaps and invades a national party’s offices might not hesitate to do the same thing to your law office, your bank, your union office or even your home.”

Interestingly, twelve years later, the local Reagan-Bush campaign headquarters was also the site of election season controversy. At 4:20am on November 1st, 1984, the day that President Reagan was to visit Rochester as part of his reelection campaign, a firebomb exploded in the doorway of the office at 353 East Main Street, creating a blast that resounded for several downtown blocks. Fortunately no one was hurt.

The incident did not interfere with Reagan’s visit. The president spoke at the Community War Memorial to a capacity crowd.

ReaganCrowd

Hopeful attendees began arriving downtown shortly after dawn. A grandmother from Greece who stood among the throngs of people on Broad Street told a Times-Union reporter, “I got up real early and washed my hair. If I get to shake his hand, I wanted to be clean.”

Inside the venue, the President amused his audience with some digs at his opponent, former Vice President Walter Mondale. “If his administration were a novel,” Reagan explained, “you’d have to read it from the back to the front to get a happy ending.”

ReaganatCMW

Reserving his negative remarks for his rival, the Gipper kept the rest of his speech fairly positive, concluding, “The motto of the State of New York is excelsior—ever upward. Together, we can keep not just the spirit of New York, but America headed ever upward.”

 

-Emily Morry

Published in: on April 12, 2016 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Searching for Son

Son House album cover

Before I moved to Rochester just over a decade ago, a friend of mine suggested that when I got settled in my new city, I should seek out the former home of blues musician, Son House. House, he explained, had moved to Rochester after ending his music career and had lived there in relative obscurity for years before he was “rediscovered” in the 1960s.

Though such a search intrigued me, I became immersed in my doctoral studies shortly after my arrival to town and the name Son House didn’t reenter my mental orbit until a couple years later when I met Daniel Beaumont, a professor of Arabic at the University of Rochester who was in the nascent stages of writing a book on the blues legend. I quickly offered my services as a manuscript editor and documentary assistant. The latter role-though the film in question was never completed-involved accompanying Dan as he sought out the various Rochester sites where Son House had once lived, including the Greig street location where three of his fans found him on June 23, 1964.

This 1910 Plat Map depicts Son House’s apartment building at 61 Greig St:

61 Greig Plat Map

As Dan got further in his research, I was struck by how many people still living in Rochester bore some kind of personal connection to the elderly blues musician. A number of these people, including Joe Beard, Armand Schauenbrock and Brian Williams, greatly informed Dan’s finished product, Preachin’ The Blues-the Life & Times of Son House (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Release_Preachin

 

But while these individuals gave Dan insight into Son House’s rediscovery and life in the Flower City, it was another area resident, Richard Shade Gardner, who proved useful in helping Dan flesh out the musician’s post-Rochester years.

For Gardner, a longtime blues radio program host, House was “the blues personified.” The musician made such a strong impact on Gardner that he, like many others before him, decided to seek House out. Gardner would write about the 1981 journey that took him to the Detroit apartment where House spent his last years in the recently released volume, Finding Son House: One Searcher’s Story (2015).

Finding Son House cover

Gardner muses that House “had been discovered more times than America,” and rightly subtitles his work, “one searcher’s story.” Perhaps distinguishing Gardner’s experience from the pack is the fact that his hunt for House was at once a voyage in self-discovery. Indeed, Gardner touches on the various forces that informed his own life in Rochester while weaving reflections on spirituality and genealogy into the book’s overarching search narrative.

While Daniel Beaumont’s exhaustively researched monograph is undoubtedly the definitive work on the life and music of Son House, Richard Shade Gardner’s book provides both a unique personal account of the blues legend and a meditation on the meanings we ascribe to culture makers and their art.

Both Richard Shade Gardner’s Finding Son House: One Searcher’s Story and Daniel Beaumont’s Preachin’ the Blues: the Life and Times of Son House are available for perusal in the Local History and Genealogy Division.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on March 29, 2016 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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